Why an MPA in Health Policy and Management instead of an MPH, MHA, MBA, or other related degrees?

The bottom line is that it generally doesn't really matter very much. For most jobs in the health field, all these degrees are usually listed as qualifying. We generally recommend that potential applicants look at the range of courses offered in a program and the profiles of students in the school, and think about whether these are the topics and issues that you are most interested in and the type of students that are likely to share or complement your interests.

That said, there are some differences. For example, historically MPH programs have placed greater emphasis on population health, epidemiology, and patterns of disease than MPA programs. MPA programs traditionally have offered more on organizational management, financial management, and public financing. The Wagner MPA is a professional degree that emphasizes managing and financing organizations, programs and institutions that affect health and disease, as well as understanding how policy affects these entities and public health. Our goal is to prepare our students to work effectively in organizations and in the related policy environment.

MPH programs also tend to be more theoretical/research oriented, while the MPA has a somewhat more applied, practice-based focus. We help our students to develop a broad toolkit that they will use in lifelong practice. Both include a substantial dose of health policy, although an MPA typically has a broader policy perspective to include payment policy, health insurance coverage, cost control, and structural issues related to how the healthcare delivery system is organized and care is delivered. The latter issues are particularly important as we struggle to find ways to improve health and deliver healthcare services more effectively and efficiently, and to respond to disparities in health outcomes.

The breadth of an MPA degree also facilitates movement across various jobs and positions within the health sector. We often tell prospective students that if you are sure you want work in a health department somewhere studying measles outbreaks, then an MPH is probably the thing for you. But if you are not sure where you want to end up in the health field or you are interested in what to do about the measles outbreak and work on efforts to finance and implement programs to prevent or respond to these kinds of problems, then an MPA might be the better choice for you.

As for MBA programs, there is a shared emphasis on building professional skills and knowledge on finance and management. Most MBA programs do not have much depth on health policy and healthcare delivery, but will offer much more on marketing, communications, and accounting. The Wagner MPA health curriculum prepares you for work in health in the for-profit, nonprofit and governmental sectors, while MBA programs are likely to have more emphasis on the for-profit sector.